By Dr. Christopher W. Smithmyer
In business, we find that the devil really is in the details. No where is this more true than in the field of international government contracting. The old tale of Faust demonstrates how little it actually costs to get something of value to a person if you have something that has currently cost their fancy. The “deal with the devil” storyline has been played out in countless movies and television shows since the advent of the moving picture. As the devil fiddles there is now a change to his tune, Russia has begun buying the souls of companies by way of getting them to contract for civilian matters than pressuring them to release data to Moscow. In the era of the New Cold War, the United State and other allied counties must take steps to control how government contractors with access to privileged information deal with not so friendly second-world countries.
If you are a business owner, then you know that government contracts are some of the most lucrative contracts that you can ever pick up. You get paid well, your employees get paid a prevailing wage and the projects can keep your company secure for years. For most small business owners (companies with less than 500 employees) this is the ticket to the big time and something that should be cherished. The reason that people are paid so well for government contracts are because there are strings attached to every check that comes from a national treasury. How jobs are done, who you can work with and what work you can do outside of the contract are tightly controlled in most cases. The biggest strings, however, come when you are given a contract that gives you access to privileged or classified data; at this point you become a target of hostile and semi-hostile governments because they want the information that you have.
As US/Russia relations cool, the cloak and dagger tactics of the 1950’s-1980’s are seeing a resurgence. During the golden age of spy-craft, countries attempted to convert government and military officials into “double-agents” for the purpose of spying on their rivals. In the modern era, we have created a system of laws that prevent this as much as possible by making it difficult for someone in the public spotlight to have any extra-curricular contact with hostile or semi-hostile governments outside of official channels. As with all things, the industry evolved. Western free market economies have different definitions of government than the former communist bloc oligarchies. This means when Intrpolitex states it is “organized by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, Federal Security Service, Federal Service for the Forces of the National Guard of the Russian Federation–Russia’s security services” that a western democracy sees this as an expo for police equipment, when in all reality the police and the military are highly intertwined in Russia. This makes it a dangerous platform for companies from allied (NATO) countries to ply their wares.
According to the Interpolitex website, 470 vendors from all around the world are showing off their wares. Interpolitexstates that there are vendors from ““Belarus, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, China, Latvia, United Arab Emirates, Poland, Korea, France, Czech Republic, USA, South Africa, Japan” which are exhibiting 1500 technologies ranging from civilian to military. With the media treatment that has been given to Paul Manafort and Hillary Clinton in relation to the dealings in Russia and the Uranium One deal, one can see how companies like Redat, subsidiary of the Czech Company Retia owned by Michal Strnad, who also is a Czech vendor participating at the expo can be seen as a problem. Companies are lured in by Russia’s claim that the expo is mainly civilian, but as TotalExpo.ru reports “The Exhibition is organized by the Russian Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs, Russian Federal Security Service, Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation and in the capacity of the exhibition operator is Exhibition Companies Group «BIZON».” Further, they note that Interpolitex is “The Largest in Russian Homeland Security…”
The way to deal with this problem is simple, yet unpopular- we need to have restrictions on companies to report the same way that the military or government officials on interactions with hostile or semi-hostile governments. This creates the opportunity for the government to know what nations a company is dealing with, thus know what information that can be shared with them. Please note, this is only for companies that have privileged or classified information, not your every day import export company or tourism business. Nations such as the United States, the Czech Republic and others on the above mentioned list need to ensure that access to critical information is protected.
If you are a business owner in the modern world, be careful when something looks too good to be true, it generally is. Just because a nation like Russia is interested in your civilian technologies, that does not mean that they are not bringing you into the deal to acquire information on your military contracts. Once a nation has access to your computer system, the dividing firewalls within your company tend to crumble quickly to experienced weaponized hackers. If the soul of your business is that lucrative government contract that you just picked up in an allied country, do not be surprised if Russia comes a calling, playing a beautiful tune of how they are interested in your civilian technologies. You may just wake up and realize that you sold your soul away.